Pathways, a Minnesota pioneer in complementary health care, marks its 30th anniversary this fall with plans to expand its community-based services and to open a second center in Greater Minnesota.

The holistic healing center has forged an uncommon model — supporting people with life-threatening illnesses with dozens of holistic treatments, from acupuncture to aromatherapy. All at no cost.

The services, once considered unorthodox, are increasingly embraced by the Twin Cities health care practitioners, many of whom now collaborate with Pathways. The Minneapolis center has counted more than 200,000 visits since it opened, including about 10,000 last year, from clients who can choose from 50 different treatments.

"Pathways does things differently," said Tim Thorpe, Pathways executive director, acknowledging that some people find the treatment methods unconventional. "Research has shown that our services improve the quality of life, including reducing pain, fatigue and depression."

For clients such as Don Larson, a retired chemical engineer from Minneapolis, stepping into the Pathways building on Hennepin Avenue brings a sense of peace. He's taken workshops on yoga, qigong and healing.

"It absolutely benefits me," said Larson, who learned of Pathways when he received a cancer diagnosis three years ago. "It's not a medical place. It's all holistic. At first I thought it was hokey, but lo and behold, I started to love it."

Pathways has long welcomed folks like Larson to its many classrooms, where on a given month, they can join groups doing everything from creative journaling to drumming to "healing movements." The services are meant to strengthen a person's physical, emotional and spiritual needs.

The nonprofit now is working to deepen its footprint in the Twin Cities.

Pathways, for example, provides treatments in locations such as the Ebenezer housing program run by Fairview Health Services, the oncology division of the Fairview Hospital in Minneapolis and Presbyterian Homes on the St. Catherine University campus. One of its most popular workshops teaches coping skills for illnesses, called Renewing Life, at an equine therapy farm in Delano and at two other nursing homes.

Peace and healing

Dr. Courtney Baechler, the former medical director at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing in Minneapolis, said Pathways' free treatments allow people on fixed or reduced incomes a chance for care they otherwise couldn't afford. And it complements their doctors' care.

"I think there's a real gap in how we practice medicine today," Baechler said. "We break things down by body organs — you have a problem with your heart, your leg. Places like Pathways are part of the solution. And they have data to prove it."

In 2011, researchers at the University of Arizona interviewed 135 Pathway participants. Among their findings: 85 percent experienced decreased pain, 87 percent felt less anxious, 90 percent felt more energetic and 92 percent were better able to cope.

Last week, Pathways board members and guests had a chance to learn firsthand about some of those client benefits. They gathered in the cozy center for an "experiential" orientation to the services, where they participated in mini-workshops on chanting, hypnosis and art therapy.

"There are programs like ours now in hospitals and clinics," Thorpe told the group. "What we have is more of it."

Pathways leaders hope to have "more of it," and in more places, in the near future. A priority is bringing services to the Twin Cities' growing immigrant communities, including Hispanics, Somalis and Asians, said Thorpe. Pathways will customize programs to fit their needs, he said.

And next year, the center will announce a second location in Greater Minnesota, said Thorpe. Nationally, it's exploring how to expand and train leaders for its Renewing Life curriculum.

The nonprofit, started in 1988 by Twin Cities philanthropists Penny Winton and the late Mike Winton, is ready to launch a new chapter.

For clients such as Deb Clark, a retired Minneapolis public school administrator, bringing the services to new audiences is much needed. After enduring 10 surgeries and chronic pain, she's found peace and relaxation at Pathways, participating in tai chi, mediation and healing workshops.

"I don't know how it works, but it works," Clark said. 612-673-4511